Ira Cassius Kepford
was born on 29 May 1919 in Harvey, Illinois, son of George Raymond and
Emma McLaughlin Kepford. He was a star halfback at North-western
University, where he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1941. He was
honorably discharged from the Reserve on 29 April 1942, and accepted
an appointment as a Naval Aviation Cadet.
Kepford earned his wings at Corpus Christi, Texas and Miami, Florida
on 5 November 1942, and was assigned to Fighting-17 the following
In the Battle of the Solomon Sea, Kepford pressed through blistering
AAA fire from the Bunker Hill to down four enemy aircraft and damage a
fifth, for which he was awarded the Navy Cross.
On 29 January, Kepford led his wingman in an attack on 12 Japanese
fighters over Rabaul; he scored four kills, and was awarded a Gold
Star, for this action.
returning to base on 19 Febuary 1944, Kepford spotted a low Japanese
seaplane. Although he was alone (his wingman was forced to abort
earlier, and Kepford was retained to cover bombers on-route to Rabaul),
Kepford dived down and flamed the plane. He was then attacked by a
flight of three Zekes, which dived onto him with a massive altitude
advantage. Kepford took full advantage of the newly-installed water
injection WEP to stretch out the chase, but the Zekes' energy
advantage allowed them to slowly narrow the gap. As the lead Zeke
opened fire, Kepford decided to "go for broke." He dropped his flaps
and landing gear and nosed down until he was skimming the waves; as
the Zeke roared over him, he pulled his Hog's nose up and opened fire.
The Zeke's stabilizer crumpled under the snapshot, and the plane
crashed into the waves. As Kepford pulled in his gear and flaps, the
remaining two Zekes bracketed him . . . he was facing 2-to-1 odds, low
and slow, and he was heading back in the direction of Rabaul. Kepford
ran his throttle as far open as possible, and after gaining some speed
he cut across the path of the port Zeke. The Japanese plane dropped to
wave top level, opened fire, and sharply turned to fall onto his six .
. . at which point the Zeke's left wing caught a wave top, and the
plane cart wheeled across the ocean surface, disintegrated, and sank.
The third Zeke was left behind as Kepford dashed for home, landing on
fumes in his fuel tank.
Kepford returned to the States in March of 1944, and was assigned to
Fleet Air Command at Alameda, California. In June, he was transferred
to VF-84. In December, he was attached to the Staff of Commander Fleet
Air, West Coast, where he served the remainder of WWII. Kepford
retired from the Navy with the rank of Lieutenant Commander on 1 June
In his five months of combat duty, Ira Kepford scored a total of 16
confirmed kills and 1 unconfirmed. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the
Gold Star, the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the
Air Medal, Unit Commendation to VF-17, and the American Defence